Archive for September, 2010

One per child

September 24, 2010

I was having an email conversation yesterday morning with Paul Haigh about the sense in schools enabling pupils to use their own mobile devices and even phones in school because they can be very powerful tools for learning. And because schools will not be able to afford to buy mobile computers for all pupils while it is inevitable that your own computer and connection to the Internet will become seen as indispensable for learning.

I have written about this on my website because I have been thinking about it a long time – I was involved in attempts to design a One Per Child (“OPC”) device at Acorn. Once we had the ARM chip in the late 1980s we met once a year to see if the surrounding technology had moved on far enough to make an OPC feasible. I brought harsh marketing criteria to these discussions, the main one being that it had to cost less than a decent kid’s bike. It was going to have to be bought by parents in the main.  A back of the envelope calculation easily showed that even at that price the education system was very unlikely to afford OPCs for all – just multiply 8 million pupils by a couple of hundred quid and assume say a 3yr replacement cycle. We always failed to get the cost of the bits sufficiently inside the price the device had to be; the ARM chip was not the problem, it was the cost of screens and the batteries to drive them. Now of course we are seeing the kind of thing we had in mind and the ARM core is there doing its job in very many mobile phones.

But that is another story. What has stimulated this blog is that after talking to Paul about kids using phones for learning, that evening I dropped into our local for a pint. The partner of the guy serving behind the bar was sitting in a corner, biding time till the end of his shift to go home together. And her portable hobby to pass the time was knitting. Complicated knitting of something very small, using 4 needles.

But to finish off what she was knitting she had a problem knowing precisely how to do it. Fortunately there was another friend there, and after a conversation about her difficulty he volunteered his mobile phone, and the pub has wifi so reception was no problem. So there she was sitting at a table, using an iphone for the first time in her life but easily managing to scroll up and down a series of images that showed her what to do. And she very neatly and successfully finished off what she was knitting.

My mind immediately went back to the conversation with Paul. Why can’t the kids in school have the same opportunity to grab some help from the Internet and to do just-in-time learning when they need to. It just does not make sense for schools and teacher unions to fight against this. Take the advice from Paul on how to do it and get an acceptable use policy instilled into everyone in the school and develop a culture where phones and mobile devices can be used in appropriate ways at appropriate times.

Oh – and what was she knitting? A neat little jersey case for someone else’s phone!

ICT and school budgets

September 8, 2010

Last week’s article in the TES magazine (Cheques and balances – one school’s struggle to stay out of the red) rather re-inforces my belief that we have two kinds of secondary schools in the UK – those that ‘get’ ICT and those that don’t. The school they featured appears to allocate a paltry annual sum to their ICT systems and the article makes no mention at all of the impact ICT could have in increasing learning.

The central issue is using ICT to re-balance teaching and learning. There are schools where pupils are spending much more time on productive learning for a very similar time input by teachers, because they have online opportunities to access and engage in learning. The school featured appears to be only concerned by what happens in the classroom.

I’ve been writing about this at so won’t go into details here, except to wonder why it is that quite a lot of school leaders don’t ‘get’ ICT. I suspect it is because they are focused on their job of ‘providing education’ and not on how young people are now interacting and learning. Many of their pupils will be online, through their phones or home computers or friends computers, regardless of what provision the school is making. If they decide to chat to friends about their homework they can. If they want to look up some learning resources they can. If the school was talking to their pupils about how they can best learn, maybe they would start to appreciate this.

If the school was using an online platform effectively there would be a budget line to support this. Not much in the greater scheme of things, perhaps £50K annually from their revenue budget to pay for support of whatever online platforms and systems they use and development of them. This is just 1.25% of what the school is spending on staffing, yet it could create so many opportunities for the teachers to be more effective and to use time better, in admin as well as teaching, and hence enable perhaps more of a reduction in staffing costs. Not to mention the savings the school will make on paper alone.

Of course there will also be some capital expenditure for the school network, teachers’ laptops etc. But if the Head has not realised how vital it is for the school to be networked, if only for the improved communication and administration impacts, heaven help them!

When the TES starts to publish articles urging schools to look at these sorts of opportunities, maybe I can stop worrying. Until then the educational offering gap between schools that do get it and those that don’t will continue to grow. This is a new kind of postcode lottery in schools, one that is entirely the responsibility of the school leaders.